Report blasts Mac replacement

The chief information officer at NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center did not follow agency policy and may have negatively affected space flight mission and safety when he issued an order to replace the center's Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh workstations with PCs that run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows

The chief information officer at NASA's Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center did not follow agency policy and may have negatively affected space flight mission and safety when he issued an order to replace the center's Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh workstations with PCs that run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 95 according to a recent internal report.

NASA's Office of the Inspector General also charged that Johnson CIO Jack Garman's selection of Windows 95 as the center's standard for desktop workstations was not cost-effective and did not take users' requirements into consideration.

The eagerly anticipated OIG inspection of Johnson's workstation procurement policy was prompted in part by a widely publicized protest launched by center employees shortly after Garman issued the 1995 policy to phase out 2 800 Macintosh machines in favor of PCs.

Users have argued they should be allowed to use the tools that are the most effective and accused Garman of adopting the Windows 95 standard without performing the cost studies required by NASA and federal regulations. To argue their point the protesters at Johnson sent electronic-mail messages to NASA administrator Daniel Goldin NASA's CIO and NASA's OIG. They also enlisted the support of at least one congressman Rep. Tom Delay (R-Texas).

Noisy E-MailGarman said that while he welcomes the recommendations he disagrees with all the findings in the OIG report. The OIG ignored documents presented by Garman's office to support its conformance to policy Garman said. He suggested that the OIG was presented with a tough situation because of the "noise" generated by the e-mail campaign launched by some Johnson employees.

"I was surprised by the tone of the IG report " Garman said. "The IG has made recommendations that we don't disagree with. There's a tremendous amount of noise [and] emotion on the subject. It's best to just proceed with the recommendations. I'm not sure it's the most productive use of everybody's time but neither is all the noise that's come out of this."

Don Andreotta deputy CIO for operations at NASA headquarters said the agency has instructed Johnson to suspend the replacement of Macintosh machines while headquarters assesses the conclusions of the report. Andreotta said officials at headquarters question several of the report's conclusions and NASA headquarters has dispatched several teams to Johnson to verify the report's conclusions.

"In looking through the report there seem to be a number of conclusions that didn't seem to be fully documented " he said. "Some of the information that was provided seems a little speculative."

Andreotta declined to detail exactly what the agency categorized as speculative. He did say however that members of NASA's Office of Space Flight and Office of Safety and Mission Assessment have been dispatched to Johnson to study the potential impact upon safety.

"We take that [safety concern] very seriously " he said. "Our preliminary indications are that we don't have a safety issue."

According to the report Johnson management did not address or provide documentation to detail potential impact upon mission safety resulting from moving to the Windows 95 standard. As a result the OIG determined that "a potential exists for negative impact on space flight mission and safety."

The Mac PackageJohnson uses Macintosh-specific software packages to develop databases that will not operate on the PC platform. For example one Macintosh-specific database contains more than 10 million records containing histories of parts used in shuttle orbiters. The database is continually updated and the data is critical when evaluating malfunctions. The report recommends that Johnson officials evaluate the impact on space flight mission effectiveness and safety before replacing currently installed equipment and software.

Garman denied that mission-critical safety problems were created by changing to the Windows 95 standard for office automation. Garman said Johnson has a longstanding policy prohibiting the storage of mission-critical information on office automation products.

"We have lots of mechanisms whereby people report mission safety issues " he said. "This is the very first time we've ever heard of any mission safety issues involved in any replacement of office automation equipment."

Although the OIG does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations (see chart below) it has asked NASA CIO Ron West to submit a plan of corrective action to the OIG by Dec. 13.

Until 1995 all NASA centers including Johnson followed IT policies that supported a dual platform of PC and Macintosh machines.

After Johnson participated in the testing and early rollout of Windows 95 Garman established a policy that forced the replacement of almost all Macintosh workstations except those used exclusively for laboratory support and highly scientific functions.

Block BuyingOfficials at Johnson are conducting several block buys to acquire a total of 3 500 workstations. Two block buys - for a total of 1 800 workstations - already have been completed. According to the OIG Johnson did not perform cost/benefit or life-cycle cost analyses to support the Windows 95 decision. Both studies are required by NASA policy.

Garman according to the report had in his possession a Gartner Group report that contained figures indicating a purchase of 3 500 Macintosh workstations would be $2.5 million less expensive over a five-year period compared with acquiring 3 500 Windows 95 workstations. He acknowledged his awareness of the report but gave it little weight.

Since beginning the move to replace Macintosh machines Garman said Johnson has reduced its workstation costs by two-thirds - from $3 500 per workstation in August 1995 to the current cost of $1 050.

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